MTN Uganda staff was on Tuesday prompted to stage a sit down strike after the South African telecom made it clear that it was planning to get rid of 143 workers under the Network Managed Services and MTN Uganda management.
The telecom announced a week ago that it was “restructuring the Network Managed Services of the Network Division which is expected to be taken over by ZTE (Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment Corporation)” and employs 143 Ugandans.
The report was first spread by Daily Monitor investigative journalist and KFM radio presenter, Chris Obore.
Origin of the problem
In his analysis, Robert Sebunya, a blogger at techjaja.com traces the origin of the problem to February 11, 2015 when ZTE was awarded the contract to take on MTN managed services for the next 5 years during a comprehensive selection process that was conducted by MTN Group Technology Division.
Also in line for the deal was Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.
Not so lucky for them, most staff with vendor certifications have Huawei certifications or those without certifications have at least hands-on experience with either Ericsson or Huawei equipment and are not conversant with ZTE.
The telecom resolves to terminate contracts of 143 Ugandans
In their latest report, Daily Monitor said the contracts of 143 MTN engineers had already been terminated.
MTN‘s General Manager Human Resources, Michael Ssekadde, addressed the staff at the company offices in Kampala area on Tuesday.
“Otherwise, we would have terminated your contracts and you would be on the streets again,” he pointed out.
Apparently, the employees wanted to be compensated with a three month salary for each year an individual has worked for the company to be given as severance pay saying at least they were doing the workers a favour and guaranteeing jobs at ZTE.
For instance, if an individual has worked for one year, earning a monthly salary of Shs 5m, they would in turn receive fifteen million as three months’ salary.
However, MTN management has resolved to give a two weeks’ salary for each year worked as a golden pay to each employee meaning that a five million monthly earner will be given Shs 2.5m for each year worked.
The 143 staff entered negotiations with the telecom on February 13, 2015 in a meeting chaired by Brian Gouldie the CEO and Michael Sekadde General Manager-Human Resources.
Negotiations failed but in March, an internal intranet portal was set up so workers would forward their concerns without confronting bosses direct which also failed.
The staff later set up a 9-man committee to push the negotiations but to no avail.
On March 30, the staff met the HR, Ssekadde, and CEO, Goldie, again at that Golf Course Hotel where they named severance pay and provident fund contributions as some of their pressing issues.
In his analysis, Sebunya says Goldie rejected the demands and threatened to terminate workers’ contracts with a maximum of 2 weeks’ pay.
At one point, management says the workers are being terminated with a 12-month, accrued leave, overtime, bonuses and unpaid wages but changes to say it’s a transfer with a 2-week pay compensation.
Staff see a disguised sacking
The affected staff told Techjaja that if MTN ceases to have any responsibility over them and cannot guarantee their re-employment by the Managed Services provider.
They wondered whether ZTE would get another contract after 5 years and what guarantees that the Chinese telecom would still employ them.
Sit down strike
On Tuesday, the staff laid down their tools for over 6 hours demanding a confirmation of their proposed demands on severance pay, accrued leave, outstanding notional share options, provident fund contributions, pro-rate 2015 bonus, and a special April 2015 salary increment.
Workers gave management only two days to settle the matter upon which another meeting was called for Thursday to address the crisis.
As such, the termination of contracts also hangs in balance.
Ssekadde in an internal memo said they had received the grievances and would present them to management for reviewed.
Another strike will be staged on Thursday should an agreement fail.
The over 143 employees, most of them engineers had permanent contracts (until retirement) with MTN Uganda but are uncertain of their future employment at ZTE where MTN management assured them of similar contracts with what they are losing at MTN.
Justina Ntabgoba, the Senior Manager Corporate Affairs at MTN Uganda told Daily Monitor that she was unaware of an official send-off package for the employees although she said whatever is being done is in conformity with the Ugandan law.
The case of Africell
In March this year, a Lebanese owned company fired 59 Ugandan workers heading marketing, billing sales departments and other top positions and replaced them with the owners’ relatives and family members from Beirut.
The sacked employees sought court intervention and even wrote to the ministry of Labour, Gender and Social Development seeking for a redress.
The disgruntled workers accuse management of racism and discrimination towards Ugandan black employees which is exhibited in defamatory, degrading insults both verbally and through emails sent to Ugandan senior, junior and casual employees.
They named the Commercial Director, Milad Khairallah, who has reportedly personally referred to some employees as “monkeys and black African idiots”.
They say the telecom has since refused to pay their terminal benefits including National Social Security Funds (NSSF).
The telecom quickly hired a social media analyst, Simon Kaheru, also SMS Media boss to “kill off” their voices.
The fate is yet to be decided as government remains silent on the matter.